The question this morning is watch or don’t watch the impeachment hearings. I tuned in for 30 seconds and watched Devin Nunes make several sweeping comments of blistering inaccuracy, the usual, that the Mueller investigation was a hoax, yada yada, climaxing (for me) in the statement that the Democrats are investigating Republican collusion with Ukraine.
Here we go. I tuned in because on my Twitter feed some guy complained that the hearings had been embellished with theme song and fancy graphics. I had to see that, remembering (as I do) the first Gulf War for which a theme song was written. I didn’t see that (watching PBS) but I believe it. Looking for a graphic for this post, I found one graphic (see featured image) that confirms what the guy wrote.
Blogging. A couple of days ago I realized that I have been spending my morning hours on this and I began to wonder if that was what I really wanted to do. I’m still not sure. I have more than a thousand posts here and several hundred more on Blogger from the “old days.” I love my “neighborhood” here, but I feel I might be at a crossroads about what I want to do with these precious morning hours and the coffee…Oh the coffee.
So, if you don’t see me for a while (or?) I’m fine, and all is going well (so far). Just taking a break.
After getting punched by a dirt road yesterday, I seem to have awoken to this shining day not much worse for wear. Roads appear to be, overall, inert, passive, and mostly helpful, but you never know when you might suddenly find yourself road wrestling. All you can do is hope for the best. I suggest you think twice before sending someone that famous Irish blessing about the road rising to meet you. It might not work out like you want it too. My poor judgment yesterday seems to have left me none the worse for wear.
A couple of nights ago I dreamed about a man who was in my life back in 1981/82. It might have been meant to be a great love story, but the timing was wrong. In a vague way, I was looking for something. I didn’t really know what, but it wasn’t love. I thought I was looking for the world, for adventure, for a reason for my life. He, having had the world and having had adventure, in which he’d found the reason for his life, was looking for a wife and family.
Then, too, like most of the men who’ve been in my life, he was pretty inarticulate. Of course, at the time, I thought I was articulate, but I wasn’t. I was at least as inarticulate as any of them. We groped toward each other, but I think we knew (partly from the words we actually managed to exchange) that we were ships passing in the night. He was a wonderful man, really everything I could have wanted if I’d wanted a life partner. But I felt that my horrible first marriage had stolen 6 years of my life. I was focused on what I’d missed out on, even without knowing what that was. And, I was always ambivalent (to say the least) about having children.
It seemed that the dream was about making amends. Sometimes we hurt people inadvertently in our rush to get on with our lives. Because the dream was filled with a very broken house we’d bought (??? don’t ask me. It was a dream) and various other dream-driven quotidian crises, the opportunity to talk never arose. I woke up thinking I should tell him things.
But what? I thought about that yesterday. I doubt I’m going to hunt him down for the purpose of telling him whatever things my dream told me I should, but I realized how much I got from knowing him. At the time we met, I was recently divorced, an escape from an abusive marriage that left me afraid of men. I was also nearing the end of a relationship with a gay guy who was also my best friend and, possibly, my life’s great love. My life was interesting, but it didn’t feel real; it didn’t feel like it belonged to me. Something about it was off but I had no idea what. I was lost. I was struggling to make my life right, but I didn’t know how.
I’d heard of this man — he was a college friend of my boss — and even read one of his letters, sent from India. In the letter he wrote about how he’d finished his expedition up Annapurna II on which he was a support climber. He was wandering through northern India and probably on his way back to the US soon. He sent my boss a breathtaking photo (he was a professional photographer and filmmaker) of a snowy high mountain trail with a single line of footprints. It evoked a dream I’d had and, for that reason, was kind of eerie.
A few months later he showed up in the office. No man had ever affected me like he did. From our first meeting, I’d have followed him anywhere. He was beautiful, graceful as a cat, soft-spoken. We began a correspondence and, months later, I went to visit him in Albuquerque. It was a strange visit — but during that trip, he showed me photos and books of the places he’d traveled, snowy mountains, long walks, trails, far away towns filled with faces that usually looked out at me from National Geographic Magazine. He was in the process of applying for med school and when I asked him why, he actually thought about the question then, answered, “Inspiration, I guess.”
I doubt it was his intention, but he confirmed and intensified my wanderlust, turning it from mere yearning into determination. He’d also decided from the (innumerable) letters I’d written him (a pile that he called “the archive”) that I was a writer. He was the first person (other than my dad) who said to me, “You’re a writer.” When I left his house the next day (yeah) after we had gone to the balloon festival, I was a lot less lost. I knew I was a writer, and, the next morning I immediately sat down and began writing seriously. I also knew that without mountains and trails, some kind of exploration, my life was empty.
Not all that long ago a former student (10 years younger and a friend) wrote me some long, passionate, love letters. Where they came from I had no idea. I found them confusing, but lately I’ve realized that he means that our time together (hiking, talking) inspired him to do most of the things he’s done in his life. He, too, is a world-class mountaineer. He’s written three books about his life and adventures. I’ve read bits and pieces of them (it’s difficult reading Italian). He put the credit for all his adventures on me, on the things we did together long ago, on the fact that we’re still in contact. Then I came to understand that what he meant was not “I love you,” but “You inspired me.” I wonder if our lives are not a chain of that, if we’re lucky, we are inspired by others and inspire others in turn?
Today I took both dogs on a fool’s errand. Teddy hasn’t been on a walk in two months; Bear got a little something Wednesday. I didn’t want to take them both, but they were so EXCITED this afternoon. I think Bear told Teddy, “She took me. I’m sure she’ll take us both next time.” When I brought Bear home Wednesday, it was clear she’d missed Teddy. I felt kind of bad.
So, today, hoping to find a solitary trail somewhere, I put both dogs in Bella. I thought first of the golf course. Because I still can’t walk far, Wednesday I drove to the club house (yeah, I know it’s a block and a half away) from which Bear and I could go straight out to the good stuff, the Big Empty beyond the driving range.
If you’re not familiar with this blog, you might have a different picture of my golf course than the reality. One of the rules of the course is “Don’t let your livestock loose on the greens.” It opens onto a small slough and miles of fields and emptiness, cattle, foxes, deer, elk, moose and an elusive (thank goodness) black bear (who’s brown…) Bobcats and mountain lions also appear from time to time on the cameras people have in their back yards that face the golf course. Late fall is the transition time when the animals and I reclaim the golf course, though, in fact, the golfers don’t mind me at all. We’ve been sharing those acres for five years now. I just make it my rule not to take my dogs if it will interfere with their fun. They’ve been known to let us “play through” so to speak, on our way out to the fields.
But, I could see there were several guys playing golf today (58 F/13 C). No one cares about winter grass and autumn leaves. They’ll play in an inch or two of snow (I love them for that). I drove out of town to the wildlife areas and found fishermen and hunters at Shriver/Wright. It’s hunting season. Bear will wear her hunting vest out there anyway. A dad and his son waved and said “Hi!’ to me. I’ve really missed the little neighborhood of people who hang around out there. Across the street, there were cattle all over Rio Grande Wildlife area which meant Teddy (Australian Shepherd) was NOT going there. Bear is calm and we walk past the herds in vigilant tranquility. The Park and Rec guys put electric fences where they DON’T want the cattle to be, so people have the trails, for the most part. But Teddy has a very powerful herding instinct, so all that remained was the lake and YAY! NO ONE WAS THERE!!! I parked where I would get a mile RT. That’s my walking limit right now.
We walked, slowly, and I used my cane. Teddy was attached to the waist belt by his bungee leash. Bear was on her usual leash and head harness. All went well until, as we were returning to Bella (my Jeep), a lady with a little terrier approached from the rear. Teddy barked at the terrier, the terrier barked back. All hell broke loose. I tried to hold onto Bear but she’s 75 pounds of livestock guardian dog, and I ended up being pulled down and dragged across the dirt road until I let go. Bear, of course, went for the terrier who was barking menacingly (naturally). For Bear, it was only three long steps. She didn’t even hurry. The owner was yelling “No! No!” terrified for her dog whom, it looked like, Bear was trying to kill. I was glad Teddy was fastened to me. I apologized and apologized from my position on the ground and wondered how I could get up.
But I did.
When Bear was finished disciplining the terrier, she wanted to meet the lady and be nice to the dog (who was in the lady’s arms). There were no injuries, of course. But the lady wasn’t having it (nor would I). Bear just stood calmly, smelling the ground by the lake, and, to my immense relief, she waited for me to come and get her. I was — and am — so sorry. I’m sure the lady was terrified.
I need a sign on Bear that says, “If your dog barks, Bear will attack your dog.” I just try to avoid people. I don’t think Bear would hurt any dog unless the dog hurt me (or her), but I can’t say that to anyone because I don’t really know. I certainly can’t answer for anyone else’s dog. The times Bear was attacked really changed her attitude about dogs when she’s leashed and with me.
Finally the lady said, “I’ll go the other way.” I would have, but it would have meant another mile around the lake on uneven ground. I would never have made it.
BUT the foot wasn’t re-injured, though it is a little more sore than it has been, and all seems to be well.
I just have two dogs who are instinct driven. When Teddy caught sight (or whiff?) of the cattle, he was all about it, standing on two legs to see them over the weeds and the irrigation canal. Then a car went by way too fast and Teddy was ready to chase it. No one ever said an Australian shepherd, like Teddy, is an easy dog to live with especially in the first two years of their lives.
Bear is a livestock guardian dog. Normally, they’re not house dogs or pets at all. They’re out there in the back of beyond working in complete independence caring for numerous goats or sheep, sometimes cattle, as have their forefathers and mothers for millennia. She might sit, stay, down, come under normal circumstances, but not when she believes she’s working.
So, will have to walk them one at a time for a while unless we’re alone at the golf course, I guess. I was stupid to take them both out.
It’s 4:15 am and my room is completely silent. The noise machine off. The humidifier off. The space heater? SPACE heater? Sabotage! My first thought. Anarchists, no, wait, I’m an anarchist. COMMUNISTS, no, not communists. That’s absurd here in the far west, back of beyond. Could be a posse of REDNECKS, no wait, I’m living in so-called redneck country, and they’re all really nice. I even kind of fit in. Then it hits me…
THERE IS NO OTHER REASONABLE EXPLANATION!!!
Aliens are common here in the San Luis Valley. There’s even a tourist trapUFO Watch Tower where people can camp out all night waiting for aliens.
I hunker down in bed. Better not let them know that nothing wakes me up as quickly as ABSOLUTE SILENCE. There’s no way I’ll sleep. After living for so long in the brittle mountains of fire-prone California, nothing is more sinister or scary than the absence of electrical power. I get up again. Cold room. I look out the window. No lights. At 4 am here? NONE of these (other) old people with whom I’m surrounded are up YET? What’s going on with them? Have they been abducted???
I walk to the kitchen, barefoot. I look at the stove. Where there should be a conspicuous absence of numbers, it reads, “4:22.” The same as my cell phone. A little later it reads, “4:23.” WTF? I try a light switch. Nothing.
What does this mean???
With the dim glow of my cell phone, I look for my flashlight in the drawer where it is alleged to repose. A lot of useless stuff but no flashlight.
In the living room window are the battery operated Christmas “candles”. Since it’s not Christmas, they are switched onto their off position, and I flip their little switches. In the comfort of their bright glow, an actual thought wafts through the rational part of my brain.
What if the electricity ISN’T off? What if your neighbors are sleeping in until 5:00? What if your heating devices tripped a circuit breaker?
“Merde,” I think, not wanting to get dressed and muddle my way through the mine field of dog excrement, holes and stumps of lilac bushes between me and the electric panel for the house. “You must,” whispers the rational side of my brain. “You want coffee.”
“Why in the name of God don’t I have a gas stove?” I think.
“You’d better get a propane camping stove for emergencies like this,” says the rational part of my brain. “And never never buy whole-bean coffee again. It could be ugly some morning without electricity.” You can see who the leader is, though…
Meanwhile, Bear and Teddy have ascertained that any aliens who might have been roaming the property have been scared away (or now inhabit their bodies, who knows). I get dressed, carry the two Christmas candles in one hand, slip on my gardening Birkis, grab the snow-shovel for balance and head into the mine-field. Miraculously avoiding the hazards, I reach the breaker box, open the cover and see a feeble red light on the circuit that seems to run the whole house. I flip it off, wait a second or two, and flip it on.
I won’t know until I’m back inside if it changed anything, but… A couple of neighbors have woken up. Lights are on in their houses.
So…the kids came over yesterday afternoon with their mom bringing Halloween cookies they’d made. There was much hugging and telling of stories. At one point, Connor found a pile of leaves I’d raked and stood there and threw them into the air so they’d fall on him and his sister. His sister got a little annoyed, but not much, and shook them out of her hair.
I was involved in a talk with their mom, so I only watched Connor out of the corner of my eye. Still, I have a clear image of a little boy in a blue jacket tossing yellow leaves toward the sky.
One of the things the kids do in their own yard is run, racing cars that are passing by. Since I live by the highway, cars go faster, but Connor was giving them a good run.
I’ve always been a kid magnet. I was thinking about that last night and I remembered something in an essay by Larry McMurtry in his collection of essays about the West, In a Narrow Grave. He wrote about an uncle he’d had that all the kids followed everywhere. He described him as an adult who, the kids sensed, had never quite grown up. I know that’s true of me. Maybe that’s why I never felt I would be up to the job of actually raising them.
But kids, like musicians, need appreciators too.
Yesterday as I sat down on the stoop in front of my house so I’d be at “kid height,” I was hit by a memory of some other kids, Kaye and Phi. Their parents were Vietnamese refugees. The years were 1988/90. My ex and I were living in our house in the “barrio” which then was largely populated with people who were living in Section 8 housing and people who’d lived on that street for decades. It was a “hood” in transition. The old-timers were white and Mexican. The new-timers were Asian and African American. Over the years, racial gang warfare escalated in in the hood and throughout the city (originating in the hood). But initially, it was pretty calm.
Kaye and Phi were twins, six years old, but Phi had been born with a disability — her legs were crooked and did not grow at the same rate as the rest of her body. Over the years she had surgery to straighten them, but she would always been extremely short. Kaye spent a lot of time at my house. She wanted to assimilate, to belong. She was very bright, and by the time she was seven, was doing a lot of translating for her mother.
I was still missing China and looking at their house (there was one house between our houses and their house faced my front yard) comforted me. Shoes lay outside the front door. Bok Choy dried on strings tied from the side of the house to the back fence. When New Years came, red papers with characters were glued to the sides of the door and a bright red diamond of paper with a door guardian was glued to the door itself. Working in the front yard, I could hear the family talking among them selves, and I loved that. Vietnamese sounds — to me — a lot like Hainanese, the dialect spoken by The Old Mother to her son, my best friends in China. Kaye couldn’t have known this. What she did know was that she was completely welcome at my house and I didn’t find her Vietnameseness in the least alienating.
Every morning the little girls walked to school — a walk that involved going up the street, turning left, walking four blocks to the liquor store, turning left and walking another block. Most of the kids in my hood walked to school. Everyone’s parents worked two or three jobs. How else were the kids going to get there? I am sure at school she experienced ostracism and bullying for being Asian.
Their grandfather lived with them. He had, apparently, experienced something pretty horrific during the Vietnam War. Most of the time he sat calmly outside the front door smoking, but once in a while he lost it completely and would jump up and down yelling, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” in an inconsolable rage. I thought it was funny, but maybe that was just me. But think about it. It is a pretty funny image. His son would bring him into the house.
Finally the family (by working and working and working) saved enough money to move into a better neighborhood with better schools. Kaye and Phi came to tell me goodbye. I sat on the steps leading to the side door of my garage and we talked. I told them it would be better. That our neighborhood wasn’t very nice and she would have better teachers where she was going (Mira Mesa one of the Asian ghettos of San Diego). Just before she left Kaye gave me a little piece of note paper. On it she’d written,
That note stayed on my refrigerator for years. It reminded me of a really great little girl and that being nice was a good direction to take with people in general. Not a very deep message and yet profound in its simplicity.
In Good News: The kids and their family are still there! They kids and everyone else is fine. They were worried because they hadn’t seen me out walking the dogs. And I haven’t been out walking the dogs because of the foot injury so…
In other good news, Bear and I walked a mile at the golf course and had a wonderful time.
I’ve virtually been a shut in now for the better (better?) part of six weeks. Even cleaning the dog poop from the back yard has been challenging because of the uneven ground. Now the foot is actually approaching being truly healed. I suspect that’s the most vulnerable time for a sprain, so I’m being cautious. I’m pretty sick of it, though. I’ve even passed the point where I miss taking out the dogs — I look down the alley at the golf course and points beyond and it just seems so far away. Meantime, the Bike to Nowhere and I have gone on some brammer rides in European mountains. It’s not the same as walking out in the world, but it’s been OK.
A friend of a friend has been struggling with alcoholism. Well, he hasn’t been struggling. He’s fine, anesthetized and numbed. His friends have been struggling. He’s lost his apartment. A posse of allies moved his stuff into storage for him and then there was, “Where does he go now?”
Naturally no one wants him to live with them. The man is at the point where it’s literally quit or die. He’s physically disgusting and unable to care for himself. The talk was “Assisted living” “Rehab” “the hospital.” He did go to the hospital yesterday after the social worker and his friends staged an intervention. The hospital treated him, but released him. There is no room in hospitals for alcoholics. “He needs to go to a shelter,” said the nurse/doc someone. Naturally, his friends were outraged at the hospital, but where else would he go? Then my friend learned that all the detox facilities connected to the hospital are full. The hospital had no where to send him but the shelter.
It hurts so much to learn that the “system” doesn’t (apparently) care for the person who means so much to you. It isn’t immediately obvious that the “system” is overburdened by substance abusers. Hospitals don’t have beds for alcoholics. Hospital beds are for sick people or injured people. People who can be helped.
My friend is naturally outraged that the “system” doesn’t step up and save her precious friend. Because the users have abdicated the use of their rational mind and are in the power of whatever substance drives their lives, to the experienced eye, users are not fully human. That sound horrific, doesn’t it? But daily life logic and rationality don’t exist in alcoholic reality. A rational mind would say, “Whoa, my drinking caused me to lose my apartment. I’m up shit crick. I’d better stop drinking.” Some alcoholics might immediately make this connection; some won’t. Who knows? In my experience, as soon as the alcoholic sincerely moves toward sobriety, he/she reassumes their full humanity and thousands of hands reach out to help them.
It’s the saddest thing I know. Keeping my brother housed was a constant concern for me. In the early 90s, he got married to a girl who’d loved him since high school (some 20 years earlier) my mom said to me, “I don’t know. Do you think we should tell her?” meaning should we tell her that sooner or later the bubble is going to burst and all hell will break loose? We’d both suffered that with him. We decided not to say anything. Who could say but what all my brother needed was a good woman, a nice house and life in California? I didn’t think his wife would believe us, anyway, love being blind and all that. What we really felt was that — for however long it lasted — my brother was somebody else’s problem.
My own personal experience trying to rescue my brother taught me a lot of hard lessons, and the biggest lesson I got from it is that the alcoholic might be suffering but his/her suffering is NOTHING compared to the suffering of those who love him/her and want to save him/her. Even if the alcoholic goes into detox and rehab it doesn’t mean he/she will stay sober. The family/friend’s hope soars and then? My brother was in three serious residential rehab programs — for which I paid (and yeah, I resent that) — and ultimately he died of alcoholism.
For more than a year I worked with a friend — former junky — counseling families of users. Over and over I experienced how it’s almost impossible for the sober person who loves the addict to wrap their head around the reality that no one can do anything until the alcoholic/addict makes a sincere effort to do something on his/her own behalf. You KNOW that alcoholic/addict is incapable of making decisions, and his/her life is totally out of control. How can he/she do anything? You — the sober person — MUST do it for them but wait…
It’s not your job to live their lives for them. We are all compelled to live with the consequences of our choices. Why not the addict?
That serenity prayer is right on, more for the friends and family than for the alcoholic, maybe, especially at first.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The wisdom part is the key, especially for friends and family. While I was attempting to help my brother, I dismissed this prayer. “Yada yada,” but then one day I paid attention to it. “The wisdom to know the difference.” Damn. Since then, it’s been one of the guiding principles of my life. “Can I change this? Is it my job?” is a useful question.
It’s so hard to let go of wanting to control the outcome. There’s this completely unreliable (and needy) person in front of you, someone you love, and, at a certain point, to a large degree, you have to let go and let the unreliable person blunder through the darkness. And you just pray he moves toward the light of a sober life and all the things that offers, means, one of which is…
You really want your friend back. It hurts that he/she might not want you as much as he/she wants booze. In a way, it is that simple, yet far more complicated. The alcoholic has a relationship with alcohol that’s become almost symbiotic. Alcohol becomes a kind of entity preying on the alcoholic, and the alcoholic lives for the numbing effects of alcohol — a kind of demonic possession that ultimately kills the “host.”
In my recent, temporary, house-bound life, I’ve been alone most of the time. I’m mostly OK with it. In going out with the dogs, I always saw and talked to people, or I saw and (talked to) the river, the mountains, the birds, whatever was there. We yearn for the companionship of others and the outside world. I might yearn for that less than many other people, but I can feel the absence of it after nearly two months of semi-isolation. Isolation can do weird things to your thoughts.
My friend’s friend is alone. I don’t think that’s his optimal living situation. I don’t know him well, but he seems to me like the kind of guy who would like to be part of a partnership, a guy who’d probably do better with people around him. Loneliness + alcohol = kills a lot of people. I hope my friend’s friend finds a community to help him. And, strangely, that’s one of the purposes of shelters.
Just got back from the doc where I got my flu shot. Usually I get them at City Market but I felt like driving in the opposite direction, Del Norte, not Alamosa. Beautiful drive. Jewel-clear sky. I had to wait a while and while I was waiting a couple of workmen came in — one wearing a Colorado Department of Highways vest and hat. He had a Hispanic guy with him. He’d parked in front of the clinic and helped the Hispanic guy inside. He said to the people at the desk, “He’s bad, he’s bad. You need to help him,” and went back out to move his truck.
I got the impression that the Anglo workman didn’t speak Spanish and the Hispanic workman didn’t speak English and all that could happen between them was the Hispanic guy looking very ill and saying, “Boss, I’m bad, I’m bad” and maybe something about “el doctor”. And the Anglo guy getting enough of the picture to bring him to the clinic.
The receptionist asked the Hispanic guy a few questions in Spanish. The accent here is so beautiful it makes my heart sing. I didn’t understand anything except, “Estoy malo. Muy malo,” answered by, “Lo siento. Por favor, siéntate. Llamaré a una mujer que hable español mejor que yo”. The poor guy sat down. (“I’m bad, very bad” answered by “I’m sorry. Please have a seat. I’ll call a woman who speaks Spanish better than I do.”)
Soon a woman came out who was able to ask him the kinds of questions a doctor would need answers to. She sat down beside him they talked. Then a nurse called me. As I walked slowly behind the nurse (I am venturing out without a cane) I saw the man was in a wheelchair and was being rushed over to the hospital on the walkway that connects the clinic to the hospital.
Maybe that woman’s abilities in Spanish will end up saving that man’s life.
This morning I went to the Post Office and the guy there congratulated me on my book and the article in the newspaper. I thanked him. In my town you get to be famous longer than 15 minutes. I mailed my stuff, we wished each other a good day, and the next guy came up. They greeted each other in Spanish. I was a little envious. Around here, the Hispanics are brown and the Anglos are white and they kind of don’t mix. You can’t see past the surface that the Anglo woman might have a Hispanic heart.
I love Spanish. I can speak it. I haven’t since I moved here so my Spanish is rusty, and that bothers me.
I recently saw Kellyanne Conway speak from the White House Lawn. She said, “I’m monolingual. I’m truly American.” Of course she’s an idiot, nonetheless, I felt very ashamed.
After thirty years in California, the ONLY friends I (ultimately) left behind were Mexican. My friend, Sofi, didn’t speak English comfortably or well. She is a very sensitive woman with tender feelings and a sincere heart. There was a day she had gone with Andy, her husband, to his boss’ house for a Christmas party. She made a mistake in English, and the woman laughed at her. I don’t think Sofi ever wanted to try again, but she did sometimes with me. My Spanish is so far from perfect, but I don’t think perfection is the point of language. I think communication is, and I was pretty fearless and open with the family about that. I became a member of their family and they became my family, too.
I was really alone at that time in my life. Their friendship meant the world to me and vice versa, but it would never have happened without my bad Spanish.
As I watched that poor man being rushed to the hospital I thought I’m just really lucky to have had a dad who thought Spanish was beautiful, to have always wanted to see the world and meet the people in it and to have been willing to put in some effort to reach at least a basic conversational ability in several languages. The whole world has passed through my life — from the Dalai Lama to Arab pilots to Argentinian Jews to Chinese diplomats (and more) — and being able to say at least “Hello” and “Thank you” creates goodwill like nothing else can and mistakes really don’t matter.
“I’m sorry I ate Bear’s food, Martha,” says the mini-Aussie after being punished for purloining a bowl of food that was meant for Bear a giant breed dog, his big sister, his friend. And Bear? Thinks she’s being punished, too. She comes toward me, her right lip curled in her particular facial expression of submission.
“It’s all-right, Bear, but if you don’t guard your dish, Teddy WILL eat it and he doesn’t need it.” She dips her head. Until she senses that happiness is restored between Teddy and me, she won’t relax. She also knows I’m not really angry. It’s about disciplining the puppy.
I feed her and she eats. Teddy stares at her bowl, completely unfazed by his recent “negative experience.” He’ll eat Bear’s food again if he gets the chance.
Dogs and food. One of my huskies was killed over the crust of a ham sandwich that fell on the kitchen floor. It happened in seconds. My year old Labrador retriever knocked out Cheyenne’s canine tooth and slit open her throat. It was the saddest interval in my years of living with dogs. Another sad event happened over food, too. Reina, my Aussie some time back, got in a fight with Lily, another husky, while I was teaching. I came home to a Lily who needed surgery and a Reina who was sorry, but had to be rehomed. She lives with a friend of mine, and she’s STILL sorry, and I still love her. Bear is neither of those dogs. She will GIVE Teddy her food.
Dogs act out in a moment. Perceived scarcity can set them off. “She has what I don’t.” “There’s only ONE crust of a ham sandwich. I’ll starve if I don’t eat it.” Humans are no different. I see the great divide in this country as being based on one group reacting against what they perceive as scarcity.
I know we’re not supposed to ascribe human motives to animals, but from my point of view, we’re animals and ascribing emotion-based motives to us or to them is likely to be correct.
Bear is NOT going to fight Teddy for food. She WOULD fight an enemy to protect him (and me). My huskies preferred not to fight, but they could be pushed and if they were pushed, there were two levels. One was a simple dominance thing that looked bad but never led to serious injuries.
My male husky — Cody O’Dog — was extremely intelligent and fierce in this way. He couldn’t abide Dusty (a male dog who was “there first”) and he never liked or trusted the Evil X. He and Dusty had a few tussles and they each came away with bites on the back legs, nothing serious. As for what he would have done to the Evil X? I don’t know but it might have been ugly.
The next level for dogs is fighting to the death, and no one expected a Labrador retriever to be a killer — but she was. Everyone would have expected my husky/wolf hybrid to have an amped up level of ferocity — and she did. She was a murderous beast. But, other than her breeding, she’d also been used a breeding bitch, had known hunger and her loyalty to me was absolute, intense. She hated it when I was not there and would act out. She never made friends with her “pack mates.” I was her pack, her whole world.
There’s that “pack mentality” thing, and maybe dogs have such a mentality, but to differing degrees. Siberian huskies absolutely do NOT like living as only dogs, but Bear, an Akbash, a livestock guardian dog, is an essentially solitary being as are all her breed, bred to spend long periods of time out in the middle of nowhere watching sheep. She needs “alone time.” I think of the Basque sheepherders of Montana who, with their sheep-wagon and their dogs, also live months at a time in the high country without any other people around. Could everyone do that? Why am I here instead of in some big city?
I suspect we humans are also made up of different intrinsic “breeds.” No, I’m not making a pitch for eugenics. I just suspect that nature and nurture can work together to make a husky/wolf mix human or an opportunistic, loving, grateful little guy like Teddy or a gentle, humorous, protective being like Bear. Certain nationalities are renowned for certain traits — the little fighting Irishman? That was my dad and, uh, uh, uh…
Innate intelligence seems also to be a factor in this diversity. Bear is unlike any other dog I’ve owned. Her intelligence (part of her breeding as a livestock guardian dog) leads her to be gentle, very patient and “kind.” She shows enthusiasm and curiosity, but training her to do “tricks” (which Teddy thrives on) is a challenge. A trick I’ve taught them is to go “down” on the count of three. “One, two, three,” and Teddy goes down. Bear goes down on “One.” Not only does Teddy go down on “three,” he will not go down on “One, two, five” or “One, two, seven, twenty-three, forty-one, three.” It has to be “Three” in the right place. Teddy wants the treat but somewhere in his mind the procedure must be executed correctly. He’s a law and order guy except when it comes to filching food.
Meanwhile, Bear tries again and again (smirking inside?) or chills on the floor beside him, knowing a treat is coming sooner or later. Which dog is smarter? Bear is a lot more pragmatic. Teddy seems to have “book smarts.”
BUT…Bear has never known hunger. I think Teddy has. When I adopted him, he was skin and bones. He was found tied up in front of a 7-Eleven. How long had he been wandering? How long before someone caught him? His collar was too small — it could have been a while. When my friend Lois was walking him, he was always looking back, worried that I wasn’t there. Why?
Teddy fetches, puts the ball in my hand, and returns with it, prancing like a puppy. He loves it when the ball is difficult to retrieve so he can solve a problem and return to me with great pomp and circumstance. Meanwhile, Bear leans against me, a little jealous but basically knowing that Teddy’s tricks are irrelevant in the grand scheme of scaring off cougars and bears.
I think all this can be extrapolated to people. While dogs are dogs, and people are people, there’s the thread of animal nature weaving through all of us.